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August 16, 2015
By Anjali Shastry
Unhappy with President Obama’s unwillingness to commit troops in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State, more Republican presidential candidates have promised a hard line against the Islamist group, including sending U.S. ground troops.
Sen. Lindsey Graham has set himself up as the one man with enough foreign policy experience, criticizing his fellow candidates for not having a “robust plan” to defeat militant groups in the Middle East.
The South Carolina Republican said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he would commit to “more American boots on the ground in Iraq,” offering between 3,500 and 10,000 more troops and setting up a regional army to deal with the Islamic State.
Mr. Graham acknowledged that fellow GOP candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but said Mr. Rubio merely has the same experience as first-term Sen. Barack Obama had when he was elected president.
“The last thing we need is somebody who is not ready to be commander in chief on Day One,” said Mr. Graham, who went on to tout his own experience by saying “Thirty-three years in the Air Force, 35 trips on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, I know what works and what’s not working.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was more unwilling to commit to deploying troops considering the political baggage surrounding his brother and the Iraq war. But his plans for overthrowing Syrian President Bashar Assad would seem to require ground troops since he criticized the Obama administration, which decided against direct intervention, for the post-Gadhafi chaos in Libya.
“The last thing we need in Syria is a repeat of Libya, with its planless aftermath, where the end of a dictatorship was only the beginning of more terrorist violence including the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi,” Mr. Bush said Thursday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
For his part, Mr. Rubio has spoken out against Mr. Obama’s Iran deal, saying it does not do enough to prevent the theocratic country from acquiring nuclear weapons.
“We have a foreign policy that treats our adversaries better than our allies,” he said at the RedState political gathering Aug. 8. “We have a president that’s more respectful of the Ayatollah in Tehran than he is of the prime minister of Israel. We have a deal with Iran that guarantees that they’re going to have a dangerous weapon and the ability to strike this very city before a decade is out.”
Mr. Rubio also warned that jihadi fights have not disappeared, and that the rise of the Islamic State group did not even mean al Qaeda had disappeared. “They didn’t become stockbrokers,” he joked.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also spoke against the Iran deal at the RedState convention, and declared, “If you vote for Hillary [Clinton], you are voting for Iran to have nuclear weapons.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he may not have the foreign policy experience some of his peers, including Mr. Graham, have, but he is uniquely positioned to be in the Oval Office.
“In my lifetime, the best president when it comes to national security and foreign policy was a governor from California,” he said at the RedState convention last weekend, referring to Ronald Reagan.
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich pushed for sending troops into Iraq and Syria – albeit as part of a broad international coalition – to topple the Assad regime and attack the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS.
“I would have a coalition of other countries, including us, on the ground beginning to degrade and destroy ISIS, because, as you begin to do it, that whole caliphate begins to fall apart, in my judgment,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Ending the Islamic State group’s rein of terror is something all people of all religions can rally around, Mr. Kasich said.
“All the religions of the world ought to stand up and say, ‘You blow up innocent men, women, and children, and you think you’re going to paradise, there’s something wrong with you. You’re nuts,'” he said. “And if we catch you, we’re going to throw you in prison.”
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina offered a different plan to combat the Islamic State, breaking from the more hawkish bent of some of her rivals by saying the U.S. is not at a time when ground troops are needed.
“We really are sitting by when we could be leading a coalition of Arab allies to defeat ISIS. I disagree that we’re at that point where we need to put tens of thousands of boots on the ground,” Mrs. Fiorina, the only female Republican candidate, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Meanwhile, Ben Carson, a former pediatric neurosurgeon, said he could not offer a precise answer on what he would do in the Middle East if he were to occupy the Oval Office.
“I don’t pretend to be able to know the number [of troops] without a lot of information,” Mr. Carson said on “This Week.” “And that’s one of the reasons that we have generals and people who are really able to figure out what needs to be done.”And Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman leading the Republican polls, offered a proposition involving ground troops to take away influence from Middle Eastern countries. He said Americans need to go in and take control of the oil, thereby destabilizing militant groups by tapping into their revenue streams.
“We’re going to have so much money. And what I would do with the money that we make, which would be tremendous, I would take care of the soldiers that were killed, the families of the soldiers that were killed, the soldiers, the wounded warriors. I love them. And they’re walking all over the streets of New York, all over the streets of every city without arms, without legs, and worse than that. And I would take care of them,” Mr. Trump said on “Meet the Press.”
Mr. Trump also made it clear he was not a fan of Mr. Obama’s Iran deal, saying it could lead to a “nuclear holocaust” and the near certainty Iran would acquire nuclear weapons, but did not want to completely abandon the deal when he could follow through on it and ensure it was enforced.
He emphasized his business experience, saying, “I will police that deal. You know, I’ve taken over some bad contracts. I buy contracts where people screwed up and they have bad contracts.”
Mrs. Fiorina, Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump have no political experience – a point they say makes them anti-establishment and appealing to the electorate.
In a crowded primary field, even candidates with political experience have tried branding themselves as Washington outsiders, including Mr. Bush, who has relied on his gubernatorial record to propel himself through the race.
But Mr. Graham said Sunday that Mr. Bush’s lack of foreign policy experience has led to lackluster policy proposals.
“Jeb Bush is a fine man, but his plan to destroy ISIL doesn’t have a ground component and is really not a whole lot different than that of President Obama,” he said.